The Stage


Shenton's View

Staying ahead of the game….

Stop the World - I Want to Get Off was, of course, the title of a 1961 Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse musical, but it also encapsulates how I feel a lot of the time. Things are just moving too fast for comfort, and I have regularly used this blog as an outlet to complain about how daunting life can sometimes become, with so many choices and competing claims for my time and attention.

I know it’s a nice problem to have, in some ways: it’s reassuring that there is so much out there to fill our lives with. Only the other week, I blogged here about Charlie Booker’s column in The Guardian, in which he pointed out: “I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain. I can’t possibly read all these pages, watch all these movies, before the grim reaper comes knocking. The bastard things are going to outlive me. It’s not fair. They can’t even breathe.”

But neither, sometimes, can I, when faced with so much to see, not to mention to read and attempt to write (all adding to the world’s word mountain).

Just yesterday I participated in a seminar, organised by the Theatrical Management Association for theatre press officers, called “Building a Public Profile: Working with the Media”; and this time the profile was briefly on my fellow panellist Carrie Dunn and I as we offered our perspective on working with them in a session entitled “How the internet has changed arts journalism and criticism”.

It is always revealing to see how others see you, of course, and Ryan Petersen - of Corner Shop PR, who chaired the session — began by introducing me as someone for whom the word “prolific” could have been invented. And yes, I know that I can appear to be everywhere; but the truth is I simply can’t be. Or at least not everywhere I want to be.

Especially, sadly, not at most of the theatres that the press officers were variously representing. There were some theatres on the list that I’ve never been to, and others that I hardly ever get to. Yet I regularly hear from many of them trying to lure me to their shows, but there are both time and money constraints to following through on that: it’s difficult to leave my desk in London to make an out-of-town trip too often, and I simply do not get travel expenses from anyone if I do. I have to fund it myself. And even if I do, I don’t really have the space, at least in print, to justify the effort.

And yet the internet means that the world shrinking in some ways, bringing it within our reach as never before: you now know just how much you are missing. But some of it is being delivered to our laptops, so we don’t have to leave our desks (or WiFi hotspots). The theatre is suddenly going online as never before: just this week saw the launch of Digital Theatre, a new initiative in which filmed version of theatre productions from companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Court and Young Vic are to be made available to download through a new iTunes-style website.

And next week sees a press conference being held in Cardiff to launch National Theatre Wales with a digital multimedia presentation which will include live video link-ups to key locations around Wales, including the top of Mount Snowdon and Radio Cardiff (a community radio station in Butetown, Cardiff) to a teenager’s bedroom and an online chatroom, where some of the collaborating artists will discuss their upcoming work.

But the really interesting thing is that, although the PRs are laying on a train to take journalists to Cardiff, we could remain at our desks for this press conference, too: the whole event will be streamed live online, and broadcast via It will be the first time a new theatre company has been launched simultaneously live and online.

That’s a key way that the internet is changing arts journalism. But I also know that, in my daily engagements online here and on Twitter, too, my own brand of arts journalism has changed forever. I am constantly in dialogue and constantly in touch.

Yet sometimes, too, I feel suddenly out-of-touch, too, when I discover something I missed, and I personally can’t believe that this managed to escape me entirely: on Tuesday evening Barbara Cook appeared at Ronnie Scott’s, as part of that legendary club’s 50th birthday celebrations. I only found out thanks to Clive Davis’s rave review in today’s Times: “The queen of Broadway in the home of jazz? It might not seem the obvious combination, yet this show provided another excuse to wallow in the miracle that is Barbara Cook.”

I usually grab each and every opportunity to share that miracle; and I am very sad that I missed this one. As Clive concludes, “Towards the end of a magical show, the sound of a very ordinary rock band began to grind its way through from next door. It might have been a glimpse of the future. What will we do when Barbara Cook has gone?”

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